A hallmark is a mark that is placed on a piece of jewellery by a third party body, which has tested the piece for metal content and found that the maker is advertising the piece honestly. Not every country requires hallmarks legally - the UK and a handful of European nations do, however. So, how do you tell the difference between UK and European hallmarks?
In the UK, hallmarks are placed on a piece of jewellery by one of four Assay Offices. These offices are located in Birmingham, Edinburgh, London, and Sheffield. Each office has their own symbol, which they laser etch into the piece after doing a scratch test. The symbols are a castle, a leopard’s head, a rose, or an anchor. These marks will appear in addition to any purity marks or maker’s marks that are added to the piece. In addition, the UK required all pieces pre-1999 to be stamped with the date, which makes it very easy to identify vintage jewellery.
France also requires hallmarks on gold jewelry, and the hallmark is one of the most easily recognized in the world. All gold jewelry that is sold in France is tested for metal purity and marked with an eagle’s head, which has been the official hallmark since 1838. This mark indicates that the piece is at least 18k gold, which is the minimum purity that a piece must be in order to be assayed.
France also has an assaying process for silver jewellery. Until 1961, the mark was a boar’s head; since then, it has been a crab. France also requires a maker’s mark be placed on any gold, silver, or platinum jewellery sold in France, which must be a diamond-shaped mark with four equal sides, called a lozenge.
In other nations in Europe, other regulations are in place. Some countries require a hallmark, such as Hungary, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. In other nations, like Italy, instead of requiring a hallmark, the nation simply requires that maker’s marks be registered, and these are used as a sort of independently monitored hallmark.
The difference between a hallmark and a maker’s mark, even in a nation where maker’s marks are regulated, is that a hallmark indicates that the piece was physically sent to a third-party office and tested for purity. Even in nations where the maker’s mark is registered, it is still based on the honour system, which requires the the jeweller to test their own pieces and then advertise them honestly.
For collectors who want absolute proof that a piece is as pure as is advertised, shopping in a nation where Assay Offices are required is the best way to find quality jewelry pieces.